The stories about children are always the most moving; they are always the hardest to write about. This one is no exception.
A young boy of 11, John Ace, was sent down to Swansea beach at St Helens to collect sand for his father. He was digging at the very top of the beach, near the “finger post” pointing towards Mumbles. He uncovered rags and then the foot of a child. John ran home with the basket of sand to his father and told him what he had seen. He went immediately to the police and together they all returned to the beach, where they immediately found the bodies of two newly born children, a boy and a girl, partially wrapped in rags. The bodies were taken the short distance to Swansea Infirmary where they were examined by Mr Hall.
The boy was a very fine child and has all the appearance of having been born alive, though the girl who was much smaller probably was not. They were definitely twins. He felt that death had occurred through the non-tying of the umbilical cord when it was cut, if indeed it was. But the boy had not been suffocated in the sand. It was his opinion that he had been dead when buried.
It didn’t take the police too long to discover the identity of the unnatural mother. It was Anne Owens, 29, from Horton in Gower who had, until very recently, been lodging in Orange Street with Mrs Sims, an old widow who slept with her in the same room. She hadn’t realised that Anne was pregnant, she just seemed unwell with a cold. It was only after the police turned up at her house looking for Anne that Mrs Sims noticed any staining on the bed. She did though recall a curious incident that had occurred a few days earlier. She had gone outside to search through the ash pit, looking for scraps of coal for the fire and she had found a large clot of blood. When she was called her out to see it, Anne looked at the lilac tree above her and said, softly, How things do prosper. She then went back inside, muttering about not caring whether she went over the pier head or to the Workhouse. This unsettled Mrs Sims, though she didn’t know why.
Anne had previously lodged in Back Lane where residents like Mrs Trosk were convinced that she was pregnant, though she always denied it. Then recently, when Mrs Trosk had seen her again she seemed suddenly delicate and to have lost weight.
When she was confronted in her father’s house in Horton Anne admitted delivering the two babies on the beach, all alone. No one else was involved. She couldn’t say whether they were born alive or dead but she was certain they were dead when she wrapped them and buried them where they were born. The case rested entirely upon whether the boy had been born alive and if so, did the child die from natural causes or from any unfair means. And of course there was no way of proving what had happened in the dark on the sand, when a frightened young woman let nature take its course.
Anne was found guilty of concealing the birth of the twins and was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour.
But the historical record contains one final and astonishing twist and one that I least expected. Because, during the trial in July 1850, the Governor of Swansea Gaol, Mr Cox, was called as a witness. He told the court that he knew Anne. He remembered her very well . How could he forget? She had done this before, ten years previously.
When she was 19 she was a servant at Cilibion in Gower. In January 1840 she had given birth to another boy. She had buried him in a garden in Llanrhidian.
The judge commented that the offence of concealment would normally warrant a sentence of two years imprisonment but he was disposed to pass a milder sentence in the hope that you will take care of yourself for the future.
She was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour.
There are so many ways in which history can repeat itself.
The beautiful illustration above is by Ditta Szalkai
This is one of the stories in my popular book, Swansea Murders (1730 – 1946)
If you would like to read more, then the book is available on this website. Just go to the How to Buy page in the menu or click on this link.
You can also find out more about the book by finding the page Swansea Murders in the menu or by clicking here.
It certainly makes an interesting gift!
There is also a video presentation which acts as a brief introduction to the book on my YouTube channel. Follow the link below to see it.